Beyond Neutrality: How Zero Rating Can (Sometimes) Advance User Choice, Innovation, and Democratic Participation

45 Pages Posted: 21 May 2016  

BJ Ard

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: 2016

Abstract

Over four billion people across the globe cannot afford Internet access. Their economic disadvantages are compounded by their inability to utilize the communicative, educational, and commercial tools that most Internet users take for granted. Enter zero rating. Mobile Internet providers in the developing world now waive the data charges for services like Facebook, Wikipedia, or local job-search sites. Despite zero rating’s apparent benefits, many advocates seek to ban the practice as a violation of net neutrality.

This Article argues that zero rating is defensible by net neutrality’s own normative lights. Network neutrality is not about neutrality for its own sake, but about advancing consumer choice and welfare, innovation in the development of new services, and democratic participation in the public sphere. Analysis of zero rating should accordingly focus on the question of how it impacts these goals: we ought to embrace zero-rating programs that advance net neutrality’s substantive goals and reserve our skepticism for those services that would sacrifice the network’s generative potential to pursue mere short-term gains.

Keywords: zero rating, net neutrality, generativity, experimental regulation, experimentalism

Suggested Citation

Ard, BJ, Beyond Neutrality: How Zero Rating Can (Sometimes) Advance User Choice, Innovation, and Democratic Participation (2016). 75 Md. L. Rev. 984 (2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2781791

BJ Ard (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

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